If a film student were to be given an essay on the state of Hollywood and what is wrong with it, they would probably start with a film like R.I.P.D. They would cite rehashed ideas, lazy scripts, bad CGI, and a misused cast. The film has the formula down, but it has no idea how to use it, and ultimately becomes one of the worst films of 2013.
As this is a movie filled with Hollywood tropes, Nick (Ryan Reynolds) is a Boston detective who is having second thoughts about being a dirty cop. (A dirty cop in Boston? That never happens in the talkies!) Nick and his partner, Hayes (Kevin Bacon), have stumbled upon some gold, and Nick sees it as a way to give the life he wants to his wife. Despite the chance at riches he has never known, he decides he’s going to turn the gold in, but leaves his partner to decide his own fate. Hayes takes it in stride, well that is until he shoots Nick in the face sending him to a jarring rendition of the afterlife.
Upon arriving Nick learns there is an eternal task force assigned with bringing dead souls who’ve overstayed their welcome on Earth back into the after life. This department, known as the Rest in Peace Department, wishes to utilize Nick’s skills for 100 years in exchange for a better chance at judgement in 100 years. Upon joining the force Nick is paired with Roy (Jeff Bridges), an Old West law man who prefers to work alone. As to be expected, the two clash in the beginning only to work towards a begrudging respect by the end of the film. Together they take down a threat that is still tied to Nick’s life and former partner.
R.I.P.D is an amalgam of movies like Men in Black, Ghostbusters, and Ghost. Men in Black and R.I.P.D share so many similarities its sometimes hard not to consider R.I.P.D remake of sorts. It contains many of the same beats, a hot shot cop gets pulled into a world no one knows exists, and must become part of the system that keeps the public unaware of the threat. The cop is paired with the grumpy old timer who has to show him the ropes, but even he can’t understand what our protagonist brings to the table. The film has the same quirky sense of humor as the Men in Black series, but it feels so forced that it sucks a lot of the would be joy out of the film. There were numerous times during the press screening where an obvious joke was, but it was so forced it elicited no laughs from the crowd. It felt akin to watching a stand up comedian bomb on stage.
The film is lazy in every way. The script includes only the most obvious humor. One of the major gags of the film is that Roy and Nick no longer look like themselves when they are among the living. Nick takes the form of an old Chinese man, while Roy’s avatar is a beautiful supermodel. The idea is funny at first, but the film drives it so far into the ground that it becomes obnoxious very quickly. The script also exchanges over the top characters for actual characterization. This isn’t a film that requires a deep character study, but like everything about it, it feels fake.
Speaking of fake, the visuals in the film are among the worst in a summer blockbuster in years. Not only does it steal much of its plot from Men in Black, but apparently it traveled the same effects team from 1997 here to do all its CGI work. Everything looks plastic, and looks more cartoonish than characters seen in a lot of animated films. To top that off the 3D is jarring at times, and only adds an odd depth to the terrible CGI.
Ryan Reynolds continues to strike out as a leading man, and picking roles like this one might actually end up dooming his chances of ever truly leading a film. Reynolds has an easy charisma that helps him through awful movies like this, but movies as flat as this make it impossible for any to pull it out of its nose dive. It’s a shame, because Reynolds has a lot of the pieces to be a truly engaging comedic performer, but has yet to do anything equal to his talent. One would think being paired with an actor like Jeff Bridges would help Reynolds in this aspect, but Bridges might be the worst offender in the film. Bridges garners the most laughs in the film, but does it while doing an over the top caricature that might have been funnier if it was toned down a smidgen. It seems painfully obvious that this is a role Bridges took for a pay check, and not for any artistic merit.
It’s odd that director Robert Schwentke whiffed so hard on this film. It was just three years ago that he directed the surprise hit Red, which he now goes up against its sequel (Read our review). The film also took a little known comic, added a bit of charm, a heap of action, and resulted in a box office success. Despite the same formula, R.I.P.D lacks the chemistry in the cast, the wit in the dialogue, and the exciting action set pieces.